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Environment

The World’s Largest Floating Solar Panel Farm Is Now in China

When US President Donald Trump decided to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement last week, the world lost a major player in the fight against climate change. 

But from the doom and gloom of that decision, there may have emerged a new leader in the battle to slow rising CO2 levels: China. 

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Last week, China announced it had completed construction of the world’s largest floating solar power plant, two days before Trump announced his decision to pull the US out of the Paris agreement. The solar power plant will produce enough energy (40 megawatts) to power a small town of 15,000 homes, according to the site Shanghaiist. The plant is estimated to be at least twice as large as the second biggest floating solar power plant, also in China, and sits on top of a man-made lake, which reduces any potential environmental impact. 

And, as the World Economic Forum reported, “in a stroke of pleasing symbolism, the plant floats over a flooded former coal-mining region.”

Floating solar power plants have a few key advantages over land-based ones. For one, they don’t take up space on land and are often less visible than other solar arrays, the World Economic Forum reported. They are also more efficient than land-based solar panels because the water keeps the electrical wiring at a cooler temperature. 

There are several ecological benefits of floating solar arrays. The New York Times reported that floating solar panels keep water from evaporating, “making the technology attractive in drought-plagued areas,” and also restrict harmful algae blooms.  

Over the past two years, China has quietly assumed the role of renewable energy champion. In 2016, China pumped nearly $2 billion USD into research and development for renewable energy, nearly twice what the United States allocated in that same year. 

Read More: China Unveils Blockbuster $361 Billion Plan for Clean Energy

The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is now the world’s largest producer of solar energy after doubling its solar power capacity in 2016 alone, according to Wired. And it’s not stopping there. 

By 2020, China aims to have 20% of all of its energy produced by renewable sources, up from 13% in 2016. The $292 billion investment is estimated to create 13 million jobs, Wired reported. 

The environmental importance of this investment is not to be understated. 

China is still by far the world’s largest emitter of CO2, responsible for around 25% of the world’s carbon emissions, but it’s seen four straight years of declining or zero growth in carbon emissions. 

It is also still heavily reliant on coal. Bloomberg reports that in 2015, coal still made up about two thirds of China’s energy use. Due to its reliance on dirty energy, the country has dealt with high levels of toxic smog and air pollution that, according to estimates, is responsible for one third of the deaths in the country

Read More: Terrifying Time-Lapse Video Shows Smog Engulfing Beijing in 20 Minutes

But the tide seems to have changed, beginning in 2015, when China published its 13th Five Year Plan. In that plan, the country presented renewable energy adoption in economic terms, as an opportunity to “establish its dominance as an innovator as well as a manufacturer and exporter [of renewable energies].” 

So China’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, which it reaffirmed last week, is not purely altruistic. 

But the fact that China will continue to stand by its commitments in the Paris agreement is good news for the rest of the world, which has benefited from China’s development of renewables. 

China’s steady investment in solar since the 1990s has actually had the consequence of lowering solar prices worldwide, Scientific American reported. The price of solar plummeted by nearly 80% between 2008 and 2013. 

The country’s development of solar power plants, both on land and at sea, is a sign that even as the United States dismisses climate change, the rest of the world will continue to fight against it.